NASHVILLE, Tenn. — All roads lead to Indianapolis this week as NFL executives, personnel departments, coaches and medical staff converge with top prospects who were invited to attend the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
The annual week-long event offers teams an opportunity to interview players, have them undergo medical evaluations, participate in on-field timing and testing drills to assess athleticism and conduct interview sessions with members of the media in press conference settings at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Representatives from all 32 NFL clubs and about 330 prospects will attend, more than doubling the 163 players who attended the inaugural camp in 1982.
Blake Beddingfield, director of college scouting for the Titans, said the week is a critical step in the scouting process. He said Titans scouts evaluate approximately 1,400 players a year during in-week campus and game visits and film study sessions. Players that are projected to be draft picks garner extra evaluation time. In addition to players that scouts knew would not have remaining eligibility, the list of combine invitees also includes draft-eligible underclassmen who have decided to go for the pros.
"It does kind of reinforce a lot of the things that we found out in the fall about a player, but it also adds more information with the number of juniors and underclassmen that we're just now starting to gather more information on," Beddingfield said.
Teams can request 15-minute interviews with players to learn more about the players' personalities, their knowledge of the game and their passion for it.
"I think the interviews are important to just kind of get a sense of the person, how experienced they are, find out more about them as people, how they're going to interact in our locker room, in our meeting rooms, on our team," Beddingfield said, "do they sound like they're going to fit?
"They're tough interviews," Beddingfield added. "The players are going from one room to the next. You may get a player fresh, and then a team gets him in the 32nd interview and he's tired of answering the same questions, so you have to take that with a grain of salt, so you're really getting an initial meeting with these players."
The timing and testing drills assess physical traits like speed, quickness, jumping ability and strength and have grown in popularity and consumption by football fans through televised coverage on NFL Network. Performing well can boost a player's draft stock, but some evaluators place less emphasis on those performances if a player's game-film or other qualities are impressive.
"I think the on-field stuff is important to see what type of shape they're in," Beddingfield said. "They haven't played football in a couple of months now unless they went to an all-star game. There are some guys that haven't played since the end of November or beginning of December, so how have they maintained their physical shape? Have they gained weight, lost weight?"
While the interviews can enlighten teams about players' personalities and elite performances on the field generate a buzz among the public, Beddingfield said the most valuable component of the combine to clubs is the private medical examination.
"That's what the combine was originated on," Beddingfield said. "It was supposed to be one centrally located place we can go and get medical information. It's so important, such a vital piece of the puzzle to the scouting process."
The combine was originally founded in 1982 as the National Invitational Camp organized by National Football Scouting, Inc. It was held in Tampa, Fla. New Orleans hosted the event in 1984 and '86, and Arizona hosted it in 1985 when all 28 teams that existed in the NFL attended for the first time. The event moved to Indianapolis in 1987 and has since resided in "The Circle City."
Scouts, coaches and executives will start around 7 a.m. and wrap around 11 p.m. each day, but appreciate the opportunity to gather so much information in one setting. They'll take what they learn and apply it as the evaluations continue through pro days held by colleges in the build-up to the 2014 NFL Draft in May.
Before departing Indy, scouts will have an opportunity to catch up with friendly faces of other scouts who have been convening to the same spot for years.
"We're all friends. We all do the same job," Beddingfield said. "We just wear a different polo with a different team logo on it."